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Wildcats look to shore up defense against ASU

Football vs UCLA
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat The No. 15 Wildcats took on the UCLA Bruins in a Pacific 10 Conference college football game Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Arizona held off a late fourth-quarter push to beat the home team 29-21.

Come postseason time, UA is going to either the Alamo Bowl or the Holiday bowl.

In reality, not much is at stake for the No. 23 Wildcats (7-4, 4-4 Pac-10) Thursday night in Tucson against ASU.

Don’t tell that to anybody on the team though.

“Beating Arizona State is and will always be a goal of ours,” UA coach Mike Stoops said. “We understand the significance and there will be a lot of energy and excitement in our players.”

The Sun Devils (5-6, 3-5) still have slim bowl chances, but must win and receive a waiver from the NCAA.

“They’re a great team,” redshirt senior offensive tackle Adam Grant said. “Their record definitely doesn’t show how good they are, so it’s definitely going to be an all-out battle.”

Since losing the Territorial Cup seven times in nine years between 1999 and 2007, UA has won the annual rivalry game two seasons straight.

“It was pretty bad when I first got here,” Grant said. “They were kicking our butts for a while. We’ve won twice now and we’d like to see a three-peat.”

To do so, the Wildcats will have to shake their current three-game losing streak that has brought the team back to the middle of the Pac-10 standings.

“We’re a little down but you’ve got to fight adversity and get back up,” Grant said. “Hopefully we’re mentally there; we get the plays done and we come through and play for each other.”

Stopping its opponents has been the biggest problem for UA over the last month, with its defense giving up an average of 38 points per game over that span.

“Winning is defined by your defense’s consistency,” Stoops said. “The last three games I don’t think we’ve played as well as we’re capable of or as we need to play to win.”

The Wildcats have given up an average of 270 yards rushing per game over that same stretch.

“Stopping the run hasn’t been great for us and that’s going to be a point emphasis [Thursday],” Stoops said. “These guys are going to run the ball right at us and we have to be much more stout up front in the run game.”

ASU running backs Cameron Marshall and Deantre Lewis average a combined 115 yards per game on the ground.

“They are a much improved football team than they were a year ago,” Stoops said. “They’re way better offensively. They have an identity and want to get the ball out of their hands. They’ve done a great job putting their players in positions to be successful.”

Offensively for UA, it starts with junior quarterback Nick Foles.

Despite missing two games with a knee injury, Foles has thrown for 2649 yards for 16 touchdowns while completing 68 percent of his passes.

“Nick has had a tremendous season; I couldn’t be more pleased with our offense and production at quarterback,” Stoops said. “Nick is a tremendous thrower of the football. There’s no throws he can’t make; he’s going to continually progress and get bigger and stronger. The future looks very bright for him.”

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